Our Top Nine, and Other Year-End Lists

Well, we caught up on our Oscars to-watch list. A Top Ten would be traditional, but we’ve noticed the Academy has only nominated nine movies since 2011. Thus, we present our Top Nines:

Nicholas:

1. American Hustle

2. 12 Years a Slave

3. Before Midnight

4. The Conjuring

5. Blue Jasmine

6. Philomena

7. Captain Phillips

8. Enough Said

9. Nebraska

Josh:

1. 12 Years a Slave

2. Her

3. American Hustle

4. Nebraska

5. Before Midnight

6. All Is Lost

7. Captain Phillips

8. Kill Your Darlings

9. Enough Said

Continue reading for our favorite actors from 2013:

Top 5 Actors Nominated for Oscars

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1. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine). Terrific sense of humor under her cool exterior—but with an edge. Blanchett plays Jasmine with conviction and empathy, filling in the emotional gaps in Woody Allen’s vaguely sketched script.

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave). In a strong year for leading men, Ejiofor is the performance impossible to forget. His Solomon Northup is not submissive. He fights, and he hopes. One moment comes to mind: a lingering close-up on Ejiofor, just before he is freed. We see, in his weary expression, the passage of time and all it has cost.

3. Amy Adams (American Hustle). She’s played adults, but never one so sexually alluring. Adams’s angelic image gives way to a newfound mystique.

4. Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) / 5. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips). Two newcomers. In the wrong hands, their characters might feel one-dimensional: Patsey the paragon of innocence, Muse a supreme villain. But Nyong’o is surprisingly tough and spirited, and Abdi plays Muse as a scared young man, in over his head. Nyong’o has since made her second film; Abdi has not announced any follow-ups.

Top 5 Actors Not Nominated

1. Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave). To balance Michael Fassbender’s wretched slaveowner Epps, Paulson is tempered, almost good-natured—to a point. As Epps’ wife, she must occupy her own rigid gender role, and is strangely jealous of (and cruel to) Patsey for her husband’s sexual advances.

2. Julie Delpy (Before Midnight). Delpy was the discovery of Richard Linklater’s Before triptych. She’s beautiful, fiercely intelligent, irresistible—until Delpy unleashes the ugly resentments she’s been holding in. 

3. Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips). Hanks never signals that he’s acting. He keeps Capt. Phillips’s emotions in check until the very end. I’d call it capt-ivating.

4. Robert Redford (All Is Lost). Redford has always underplayed, but his matinee-idol blandness has morphed into grizzled experience. His old man lost at sea is riveting because we want to see more. But Redford only hints at the deep internal war between futility and survival. We have to infer the rest.

5. David Oyelowo (Lee Daniels’ The Butler). The blood surging through the movie’s veins. Oyelowo was rarely talked about, but his is the most turbulent, most dynamic journey in The Butler.

Which leads us to…

The Presidents in Lee Daniels’ The Butler

butlernixonLet’s start with the ugly. 6. John Cusack as Richard Nixon. Not even a hot tub time machine could convince us John Cusack knows anything about Richard Nixon or the seventies. After Frank Langella’s uncanny imitation in Frost/Nixon, Cusack looks miserably out of place.

Also jarring is 5. Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower. Williams gets key scenes with Forest Whitaker’s Cecil Gaines, and though he does them well, Williams’s hair, make-up, and accent are too distracting to focus. His miscasting sets the movie on a course it can’t return from.

Then there’s 4. Liev Schrieber, whose Lyndon B. Johnson barks orders from his toilet. He and 3. Alan Rickman barely register; it’s like Lee Daniels set his Rolodex spinning and cast the first names who answered their phones. Rickman in particular looks catatonic, not the quality we associate with Reagan.

Blessedly, 2. James Marsden is excellent as John F. Kennedy. He’s to the manor born, full of charisma, but also a good listener and empathizer. Marsden could credibly perform JFK in a full-length biopic. 

The best presidential performance? 1. Barack Obama playing himself.

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